The fourth “E” is empower

By Amanda Morin

My story

I’m a parent of two boys and a girl and I live in Maine. Since elementary school, my older son has struggled with anxiety, social skills, and executive functioning issues.

What I was doing

My son’s early years were very difficult. He would get upset, very quickly and very loudly. It made it hard for him to keep friends. Every day, I dreaded hearing my phone ring because I knew it would be the school—again. He got into trouble because people thought he was being a “wise guy” and disrespectful. My son felt misunderstood, lonely, and always in trouble.

I found myself in a pattern I now call the three E’s: excusing, explaining, and educating. I talked about his issues as a way to excuse his behavior. Later, I realized it wasn’t an excuse, but I used it as an explanation for his difficulties. Now, I try to educate people about how we can all work together to help my son be successful.

What I wish I’d known sooner

To tell you the truth, I wish I’d known there’s a fourth E: empower. All that excusing, explaining, and educating was being done about my son, not with him. I’d sit in meetings and doctor’s appointments discussing symptoms, strategies and “what ifs.” How can we learn to recognize his signs of frustration? What if we try a social skills group?

My son got used to me being his champion, but it became a crutch. He didn’t develop the problem-solving skills he needed to speak with teachers or friends, something both of us began to realize over time. He needed to be able to speak for himself.

We started small by asking him what he thought. Instead of talking about him, we empowered him by asking things like “How can we help you to recognize the signs of frustration?” or “Do you think a social skills group might help?”

After we started including him in conversations, things got gradually easier. He started recognizing situations that trigger anxiety. He learned how to manage his feelings and even practice conversations with friends. His new self-awareness is allowing him to explore his strengths, not just deal with the fallout from his weaknesses. He’s now 12 and going into seventh grade. I still need to explain and educate at times. But I also know how important it is to empower my child for the future.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.